A. Dear Sisters, During this Holy Mass, all of us your friends and co-workers, join you in praying that the Holy Spirit will overshadow you as today you begin your General Chapter. It is more than a time of electing leadership and making decisions. More than that, your Chapter is a moment of grace in which you are renewed in your call, in your election to bear witness to Christ, the true compass of our souls, through the witness of your evangelical style of life, consecrated to God by the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. It is a moment in which you invoke the saints, the holy ones of God, so that even now, you may anticipate the joy of the company of the redeemed in heaven.
B. As it happens, today’s feast of the great St. Ambrose of Milan as well as today’s readings from Holy Scripture – focus our minds and hearts on the mystery of God’s election – on God’s resolute love to choose us as his own and to entrust to us in varying ways a vocation to love. Let me begin with a brief word about St. Ambrose.
II. St. Ambrose
A. As you know, St. Ambrose path to the Church was extraordinary. He was born into a prominent Roman family at Trier about the year 340. As a youth, he was sent to Rome where he was a brilliant student of the law. Eventually he rose in the ranks of the imperial government becoming a Roman governor of the Province of Sirmium. In the midst of such worldly success, another call reached him: the call to follow Christ in the midst of his Church. He entered the catechumenate and while still in formation, he was elected by popular acclaim as Bishop of Milan. A mere eight days after his Baptism he was ordained…that’s one quick elevator ride!
B. Ambrose did not allow himself to be puffed up by his election. On the contrary, he immersed himself in the study of the faith, especially the writings of the holy fathers of the Church. Filled with the knowledge and love of God in Christ Jesus he became an eloquent and persuasive preacher of the faith… indeed, his preaching was pivotal in the conversion of St. Augustine. As he proclaimed the faith, found Christ in celebrating his mysteries, and served the poor and needy with special pastoral love, St. Ambrose only grew in his awareness that his election by God and the Church was a sign of the Lord’s mercy upon which he was entirely dependent.
C. St. Ambrose served the Church at a difficult time when the Church was torn by the erroneous teaching of Arius. Many were departing from the true faith; then as now, those who refashion the faith according to their own lights, lose their way and cause others to lose their way. Thanks to the ministry of St. Ambrose many rediscovered in their hearts that compass pointing due north toward God’s love, fully revealed in Jesus, communicated by the Holy Spirit, and lavished upon us in the life of Christ’s Body, the Church.
III. The Scriptures
A. If St. Ambrose stands as a model of God’s election, so too today’s Scripture readings, set in the holy season of Advent, help us to see how God in his mercy calls us, chooses us, to be his elect.
B. The prophet Isaiah speaks to us in joyful hope of the Lord’s coming. His coming into our midst causes water to flow in the desert and transforms the barren waste into a land that bursts forth in beauty. Indeed, it is in the desert that the Lord’s love blooms most abundantly. It was in the desert of exile that the people of Israel rediscovered God’s call. It was in the desert that John the Baptist received his unique vocation. And it is in the desert of a sacrificial style of life marked by chastity, poverty and obedience, lived in the world but not of the world, that your lives bloom with evangelical zeal.
C. The Gospel shows us the reverse-side of God’s election. There we encounter the resolve of the paralyzed man to see Jesus, to put himself in the path of Jesus so that he could be released not only from physical paralysis but also from paralysis of the spirit. Jesus took notice of the man’s faith and responded immediately. Though the name of the man Jesus cured is lost to history, his witness of faith is immortalized and speaks to us now. If we wish to avoid becoming stymied in our faith and in our calling, we need to allow ourselves to be placed before Jesus so that we might experience his mercies which are new ever morning.
A. So, dear sisters, we are grateful to you and we are praying for you as you begin your Chapter this morning. Your presence in our midst is a great grace and your calling to consecrated life confirms all of us in our calling to discipleship and to the vocation God has entrusted to each of us.
B. Through the intercession of St. Ambrose and all the saints, may you stand in our midst as a sign, indeed a sacrament of Christ’s presence, vowed as you are to him not only by words but by your very lives. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!